The Jungle Book
Starring Neel Sethi: voices Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong'o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken
Disney is on a quest to bring to life all of their classic animated stories. Last year Cinderella got the live action treatment, now Jon Favreau leaves superheroes behind to direct the classic story of a young boy raised by animals. Of course this isn’t the first attempt, it was given a live action treatment by Disney in 1994 and a sequel in 1998. Disney (who now owns Marvel which one assumes is how the deal was struck with the Iron Man director) has long been in the business of retelling the same old stories over and over again. New generations want new technological adaptations. This Jungle Book is set completely on green screen and everything but Neel Sethi who plays Mowgli is a special effect. The simplistic story of good and bad, humans and animals remains the same offering little stimulation for the adult viewer.
Raised by a pack of wolves, a man cub named Mowgli has come to know Raksha (Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) as his parents. Bagheera (Kinglsey) the black panther found young Mowgli (Sethi) as a child, bringing him to live with the wolves. Now he must protect the adventurous boy from a new danger, the threat of tiger Shere Khan (Elba). Khan not only wants the boy out of the jungle but dead. All animals fear what they call the “red flower”, known to humans as fire, but Khan has felt the effects of it on his face. He vows never to stop hunting young Mowgli which prompts action from the gentle giants of the jungle. Fearing the only way to keep their human friend alive, Bagheera reluctantly leads Mowgli toward “man” and away from the jungle.
Offering little stimulation for the adult viewer.
Young children oblivious to special effects will have no problem with this retelling, which compared to all previous versions is the most exciting and captivating. Families will relish the opportunity to revisit the beloved story from their childhood and perhaps share it with their children for the first time. Yet for everyone else, The Jungle Book is all smoke and no red flower. Drowned out by so much effects and fakery, there is nothing authentic or emotional in so many computer generated images. Many films rely heavily on visual effects, i.e. Lord of the Rings, Ex Machina, The Martian, to successfully deliver an otherwise unachievable realty; Yet even those have more reality to it than this. Photographs of remote Indian jungles were used to visually create the environment in which story takes place in, but more often than not it looks more like an animated screensaver.
To make matters worse newcomer Neel Sethi isn’t the most enthralling child actor. It’s often said that a child’s performance lives or dies on the skill of the director. Sethi’s version of Mowgli certainly won’t be remembered as a star making performance as he doesn’t add any particular charm or magic to the opportunity. It isn’t really the kids fault, as he is asked to imagine his surroundings and animal co-stars, which is even difficult for Oscar winning actors to visualize and react to creatures or places that haven’t even created during principal photography. The Jungle Book caters to those who already love the film before they see it, it offers little to nothing for those outside the family circle.
Some cartoons have no business getting the live action treatment.